article
School Finance
December 12, 2013

Unions: State depends too much on tuition to fund universities

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT Communications

NYSUT and its higher education leaders support New York's efforts to stabilize tuition increases at public colleges and universities, but deplore the fact that higher tuition fees are going toward operating costs on campuses, instead of academic programs and services.

"We do have a fundamental concern that, at present, fully 67 percent of the revenue going into SUNY (State University of New York) is coming out of tuition," said Fred Kowal, president of United University Professions, in testimony Thursday at a public hearing of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. UUP, which represents 35,000 academic and professional faculty on the SUNY state-operated campuses, is NYSUT's largest higher education affiliate.

NYSUT testimony, presented by the union's director of legislation, Stephen Allinger, noted that the same problem has occurred at the City University of New York. Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress — which represents 25,000 faculty and staff at CUNY — has been a vocal critic of using precious tuition dollars from the system's largely low-income and working-class student body for maintenance costs that should be paid for by the state.

The state's three public higher education systems — SUNY, the CUNY system of community and senior colleges and the SUNY community colleges — have collectively lost at least $1 billion in state funds during the Great Recession.

The hearing was called by Assembly Higher Education Committee Chair Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat, to examine the progress of a five-year plan of graduated tuition increases at SUNY. The state instituted the plan three years ago to end a long pattern of erratic and often jarringly steep tuition increases. But testimony by NYSUT leaders as well as administrators from SUNY and the CUNY covered a range of recent and sometimes controversial programs introduced in recent years at both of the public higher ed systems. Thursday's testimony is expected to provide background to the Higher Education Committee as it prepares for budget discussions on higher education funding. 

Among the programs also discussed: the Pathways curriculum at CUNY, which the administration touts as a faster path to graduation but which received a resounding vote of no confidence from the faculty last spring and is the subject of a lawsuit by the PSC; a new curriculum for the education of future teachers at SUNY that will be implemented in the spring, with many faculty members and students feeling ill-prepared for a new mandatory assessment of student teachers; and the rapid expansion of online courses at SUNY without any input from faculty governance bodies or UUP.

Given these fast-paced changes, the need for the university administration to be inclusive and open is paramount, Kowal said.

"We are concerned about the interests of profit-makers taking the lead over interests of our students," Kowal told the committee. "This is a public university. It needs to be transparent."